The Ultimate Guide to Christmas in Rome (Updated for 2016!)

Ah, Christmas in Rome! With the festive lights a-sparkling and families a-shopping, Christmas trees a-twinkling and nativity scenes a-…um, whatever nativity scenes do—well, it really is the most wonderful time of year.

Want to make the most of it? Here’s my complete guide to Rome at Christmas.

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!

Rome Christmas basics: what will be open, what will be closed, and other burning questions

In the short video below, I answer some of readers’ biggest questions about visiting Rome over Christmas.

Here’s the breakdown of what holiday hours (and closures) to expect at museums, shops, restaurants, and with public transport in Rome.

What to do over Christmas and New Year’s in Rome

Rome at Christmas Piazza Navona market
One beloved Christmas tradition in Rome: the Christmas market at Piazza Navona

Rome has lots of special events and activities over Christmas. Here are 10 top festive experiences in Rome from the end of November to the beginning of January, from ice-skating to Christmas markets.

And speaking of Christmas markets… here are some of your best bets (beyond Piazza Navona… which actually, this year, is all but empty!) for the 2016-17 season.

You can always pay the (new!) pope a visit, too. Here’s how to see the new pope over the holidays in 2013.

Rome at Christmas
Christmas lights at Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina

One of the best activities: just wandering the gloriously lit-up streets. In this photo essay, check out what it’s looked like in past years.

Christmas nativities in Rome
Presepio at the Church of Sant’Eustachio

The presepi (Christmas nativity) exhibit I wrote about for the New York Times a couple of years ago is still going strong. Now in its 39th year, “100 Presepi” runs until January 6. There’s also a whole museum devoted to the craft of Christmas crib-making.

Christmas shopping in Rome

Christmas shopping in Rome
One traditional Italian gift: a beautifully-wrapped panettone

Get off of Via del Corso (no, really, please get off Via del Corso), and you’ll find tons of hidden independent boutiques and artisanal workshops in Rome—great for finding the perfect gift.

Here are nine of my favorite shops for buying one-of-a-kind gifts in Rome. And here’s one of my favorite streets for shopping in Rome.

Rome’s markets are great for gift-shoppng year-round. More on gift shopping at Rome’s best markets in my piece for the New York Times.

Give a great gift—and give back to a good cause—by shopping at Libera Terra, Italy’s fantastic anti-Mafia cooperative.

Not in Rome for your Christmas shopping? Here are some of my favorite artisans in Italy whose work can be shipped abroad (including mosaic from Ravenna, masks from Venice, and more). And here are some authentic, gourmet gifts for foodies, from the best Italian cookbooks to authentic prosciutto and Pecorino. 

Finally, here are the best Italian gifts on the web and the most thoughtful gifts for Italy-bound travelers, both new for 2014. (Check out my past gift guides for Italy lovers here!).

Christmas and New Year’s traditions in Rome and Italy

Not Rome-specific, but fun and useful: a quick guide to how the Christmas season is celebrated across Italy.

One of the biggest Christmas traditions in Rome is la befana. She’s the figure you’ll see across Rome come the holidays—and with her hooked nose and broomstick, she’s often mistaken for a witch. Here’s what to know about la befanaand this super-sweet video, below (starring my favorite little adopted niece Roman friend), explores the tradition further.

If you’re going to be a guest of an Italian family for any holiday meals, or you want to cook (or eat) according to Italian tradition this Christmas yourself, don’t miss this post on how to have an Italian Christmas meal.

Italian food is super-regional. But these days, you will see pandoro (a golden cake originally from Verona) in every Rome bakery. Here’s more about pandoro and Italy’s other traditional Christmas cakes.

Christmas sweets in Rome
Tastings of torrone, panpepato and panforte at the pandoro festival in Rome

Want to know about New Year’s? These are some of the main New Year’s traditions in Italy. (Yes, my Italian friends really insist on wearing red underwear. So much so a [female!] Roman friend once even gave me red underwear as a gift… just to be sure I would).

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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Cleopatra Returns to Rome: New Exhibit at the Chiostro del Bramante

Cleopatra exhibit in Rome, Italy
A sculpture of Cleopatra done in her lifetime, one of the 180 pieces on display at the Cleopatra exhibit in Rome. Photo courtesy of Foto Musei Vaticani.

Cleopatra, history’s most famous (and possibly fascinating) queen, is the insipiration for a new exhibit in Rome: “Cleopatra: Rome and the Magic of Egypt.”

On at the Chiostro del Bramante until February, the show’s aim is to contextualize Cleopatra’s life and times. It brings together more than 180 pieces from the ancient world, including frescoes, mosaics, jewelry, coins, and, yes, portraits of the major players, including several never-before-publicly-shown portraits of Cleopatra herself.

Read more about the exhibit in my latest article for the BBC.

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An Exhibit of Stolen (and Recovered) Art, for the BBC

Stolen art on display in Rome
Fresco from a Pompeii villa that was looted from Italy, and then returned—and now on display at Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo.

Art looting is a serious problem in Italy. (And elsewhere). Don’t believe me? If you’re in Rome before November 5, check out the Capolavori dell’archeologia exhibit at Castel Sant’Angelo, which gives just a taste of the extent of the problem, thanks to stunning, priceless pieces that were stolen from Italy… and later recovered.

And if you can’t make it there—or want to know what to expect—make sure you check out my story on the exhibit for the BBC.

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Rome’s Best Events in Summer

Tiber festival during summer in Rome
The festival along the Tiber, one of the best summer events in Rome

Great events in Rome happen year-round… but some of my favorites happen to take place during the summer. So when it comes to summer in Rome, don’t worry: It’s not all about figuring out how to skip the lines and survive the heat. It’s also about some great summer events.

Best festivals for nightlife

My favorite: hands-down, the Lungo Il Tevere summer festival. This is when the Tiber River is lined with almost a mile of shops, stalls, bars, and restaurants. And it’s open until 2am. Come mid-June, every in-the-know Roman starts heading there to meet up with friends and have a drink, dance, or even just a stroll.

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Rome in Summer: Your Ultimate Guide

Summer in Rome
Even though it’s already feeling like summer in Rome, the season officially kicks off this week. Which makes it high time for a guide to enjoying Rome… in the summertime!

Turns out, I’ve got a lot to say about Rome in the summer. (Big surprise, right?). So I’ll publish this guide as a series, with posts on Rome’s best beaches, swimming pools, events, and more.

Posts in the Rome summer guide include:

The most idyllic island escapes near Rome (a 2014 update!)

The best beaches near Rome

The best gelato in Rome

…and six other top spots for the best gelato in Rome

Restaurants in Rome open in August (the summer holiday, when most places are closed)

The best swimming pools in Rome

How to survive the crowds (and skip the lines)

Rome’s best summer events

How to beat the heat in Rome

Happy summer, everyone!

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Soccer in Rome: 7 Things I Learned at the Roma-Lazio Game

Roma Lazio derby in Rome
Roma supporters at the Roma-Lazio 2013 derby

Until this week, I’d never seen a soccer game in Rome. I know. Shameful. But now, not only have I seen a Rome soccer game, but I’ve seen the Rome soccer game—the Rome derby, where Rome’s soccer teams, AS Roma and Lazio, duke it out. More importantly? I survived.

Want to head to a soccer game in Rome? Here are 7 things I learned at the Roma-Lazio game, and that you might want to know… especially if you’re as much of a soccer newbie as I am.

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Where to Catch the Pope This Easter Weekend

Way of the Cross, a chance to see the pope this Easter
Here in Rome, all eyes have been on Pope Francis I since his March election. Curious about the new guy in charge of the Vatican? This weekend, there are plenty of chances to catch a glimpse of him—from the Good Friday Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum to the papal mass at St. Peter's Square on Sunday. For more (and on more events going on this Easter in Rome), check out my latest piece for BBC Travel.

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Titian Comes to Rome’s Quirinale, And It’s a Show You Won’t Want to Miss

Titian exhibit at the Scuderie del Quirinale
Titian’s charming Danae, just one of dozens of masterpieces on display now at the Quirinale

The much-anticipated exhibit Tiziano (Titian) opened this week at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale. I have one word: Go! 

 So many retrospectives can’t get their hands on a painter’s best masterpieces, but not this one. There are no fewer than 39 works by Titian—you know, the most famous artist to ever come out of Venice, and the most important Italian artist of the 16th century. And they range from the incredible Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (which has an estimated value of 50 million euro, by the way) to the iconic La Bella to the charming Danae. 

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Pope Benedict XVI Resigning February 28

Pope Benedict XVI resigning
Pope Benedict XVI in healthier days: on the Day of the Immaculate Conception in 2010

Big news from Rome: The Vatican announced this morning that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning at the end of the month.

The last time a Pope resigned, it was in 1415—and the purpose was to end the Western Schism. (Three men were all claiming to be the Pope simultaneously. Things got confusing). This time, the 85-year-old Pope’s reason for his departure seems a little more personal. It’s most likely because of his health, which seems to have been deteriorating in recent months. You can read the Pope’s declaration of his resignation here.

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